Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Uncle, again

Uncle Cleans Up, by JP Martin and illustrated by Quentin Blake, is the follow-up to Uncle (both now published in The New York Review Children's Collection). Uncle is a fabulously rich elephant who reigns over a motley crew inhabiting the grounds of his castle-kingdom. Things are upside down and backwards, odd and chaotic — rather subversive, really.

For much of the book, Uncle's little band is planning and provisioning for day-trip excursions to the far reaches of Uncle's domain.

At the first stop, which was called Rhino Halt, a thin but very happy-looking man came running to the side of the train.

"Got my museum money at last, Ninety!" he said joyfully.

"Sorry, Needler," said Ninety. "We can't take you today. Full up."

Needler burst into loud sobbing.

"After all I've done to save up! Done without lunch for nineteen days, and all to get into the museum!"

"Let him in," said Uncle; "we'll make room."

Needler's no-lunch habit had made him so thin that he slipped into a very small corner of Uncle's carriage.

Little Liz put out her tongue at him, but Uncle saw her and said sternly:

"If you do that again you will be put off at the next station!"

"I'm sorry," said Little Liz very quickly.

"Also, Needler," said Uncle, "I will pay your fare."

He handed sixpence to Ninety.

Needler burst into tears of joy. It really seemed unnatural for a man to cry so much. His tears overflowed his handkerchief and fell on to the floor in a stream.

"Thank you abundantly, sir," he said. "I never thought I would see this day. The cost of living keeps going up so much. But now what joy I've got in front of me! A long lovely walk through all the museum room, tea — they do you well at the tea-room for a halfpenny — and then I'll buy some picture postcards and take the rest of the money home, and live like a prince for a week!"

"I'm only glad you've cheered up," said Uncle, who hates crying of any sort.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first in this series, and I hope there is more to come. For the time being, the books are more suited to my sense of humour and reading sensibility than to my child's, but she is of an age where that may soon change.

Tales from Homeward: Uncle is still alive and well, and maintaining a blog.

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